By Jade Bonus
Golden Week is fast approaching and the south is beckoning us northerners down to sample its wares. As beguiling as it is, Tokyo has a reputation for cleaning out our wallets while we weren’t looking but this reputation is undeserved – as long as you keep your wits about you. In terms of things to see and do in Tokyo, I’m not your expert, but as a notorious tightarse, I do have a few top tips to do Tokyo as cheaply as possible.
We are fortunate enough to have access to the Tohoku Shinkansen line – yay! As we don’t qualify for the JR Pass, taking the shinkansen can be a costly exercise – boo! But not all hope is lost. If you can read Japanese and have a Japanese credit card (or a really trusting friend who can and has) then eki-net is the place for you. Through eki-net it is possible to purchase shinkansen tickets for up to a 35% discount. The catch is that you have to be date savvy. From one month and 13 days before your travel date you can go into the draw for the discounted tickets. They do get snapped up fast but if win you can save yourself a nifty 6000 yen, which is one night’s accommodation or a night at Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant – not bad for a couple of minutes’ work.
If you miss out and are still keen to get to Tokyo in the cheapest possible manner, look into the night bus situation in your area, but keep in mind you will get what you pay for. What you are willing to pay depends on your ability to be able to sleep with a stranger’s face smooshed up against yours and the potential of innumerable rest stops. So weigh up whether that 3000 yen saving between bus companies is worth the exhaustion and general hating of life that will come the next day, unless you are into that, then by all means make that saving.
I have come to swear by Rakuten Travel as my go to source for cheap hotel rooms. Not only does it have an English site but it also has the option of paying at the hotel rather than by credit card, which is dang handy. Nom Nom Tabemono’s Mark Wilson pipes in here and says that Hotels.com is also a great site for sweet deals and usability, so be sure to check that out too. That said, not all of a city’s available hotel rooms will be on these aggregate booking sites, so if hotels in your price range or chosen location are looking a little thin on the ground, not all hope is lost.
At these times a simple Google Map search of the area in which you want to stay will show all the hotels in the area. Most hotels have a website, and even if they don’t have an English version, most hotel booking web forms are fairly easy to navigate. You may even get a cheaper price by going direct through the hotel, so don’t be afraid to give it a go.
In terms of accommodation types, while capsule hotels and dorms are cheap, if you want some of the creature comforts (like your own shower or not being able to hear the person in the next bed/capsule snoring/self-pleasuring) I have found business hotels fitting the bill with minimal crackhouse ambience in some of the less nightlife heavy areas of Tokyo such as Asakusa and Korakuen for around 5000 yen per night, which after a big one becomes well worth it.
Doing things there
If you are a bit of a gallery and museum buff like me, then transport and admission fees add up quickly in a place as culturally dense as Tokyo. Thankfully there are two solutions; the Suica card and the Grutt Pass. The Suica card won’t be new to those of you with access to local train networks in your cities but for the rest of us, it is a revelation. Suica is a reloadable touch on/touch off card that can be used throughout Japan on JR trains, subway lines and buses (as well as the odd vending machine). Not only does it take the asspain out of trying to figure out which paper ticket you need to get to your station (that is invariably written on the board in kanji while you have the romaji version of the system map) it also works out cheaper – wins all round.
For admission to all manner of attractions throughout Tokyo, head to Lawson and get your mitts on a Grutt Pass (ぐるっとパス). For around 2000 yen or so you get a book filled with discounted and free entry vouchers for a plethora of Tokyo’s museums and galleries. The pass is arranged into geographical areas for easy planning and is valid from two months after purchase so the value you get from it is entirely up to you – mine paid for itself within the first afternoon – winning.
What are your winning tips for doing Tokyo without breaking the budget? Hit up the comments section below and share the love with your fellow travelers or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!